Lisboa, a bridge to San Francisco

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“Every morning breaks in the same place,

There are no mornings over cities, or mornings over the country.

When the day breaks, when the light shudders as it rises

All places are the same place, all lands are the same,

And the freshness that rises is eternal.”

(From Acordar da Cidade de Lisboa, Mais Tarde do Que as Outras, Alvaro de Campos)

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Few places in the world share so many affinities between natural beauty and tourist attractions. San Francisco and Lisboa do: two magical cities with romantic views, breathtaking sights and magnificent architecture. Points of interest are endless, even for those who live there.

It seems hard to believe that two distant cities, separated by a vast ocean and land that vanishes beyond the horizon, can have so much in common. San Francisco is far from being a typical American city. Known for its ethnical and cultural diversity, it is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. And there is where you find the first affinity with Lisboa and the old world: the famous Golden Gate Bridge, identical to the bridge over the Tejo (Tagus river).

Two Bridges, One Engineer

Golden Gate Bridge was opened to the public in 1937, long before the 25 April Bridge, which opened in 1966 and was known at that time as Salazar Bridge. Both were originally designed by the engineer Joseph B Strauss, well-known as a bridge builder throughout  the world.

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Today the bridges are regarded as amongst the most beautiful in the world. Golden Gate was in fact the world’s first suspension bridge. In 1937 few believed it was possible to build a bridge over that part of San Francisco Bay. The city foggy’s climate, the currents and the strong winds, meant that any bridge would have to be extremely strong and an extraordinary construction. Similar factors faced Lisboa when it was decided, many years later, to link the banks of the Tejo with a bridge almost two kilometers long.

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The two rectangular tops are narrower at the top in order to accentuate their dizzying height. The unusual orange was chosen because it fits in with the area’s natural beauty, as well as contrasting with the grey used on most bridges. In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, if the United States Navy suggestion had been followed, the bridge would have been painted black with yellow stripes, to make it more visible to shipping. Fortunately, the aesthetic importance of this gateway to the Pacific was understood.

Seven Hills

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Lisboa is the city of seven hills. The belvederes, located on high, provide outstanding views over the city and its steps, which are such a characteristic element. The steep slopes are one of its peculiar features, amongst others.

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San Francisco also stands in a geographic area with seven great mounds. The most notable are the Twin Peaks, a pair of hills that provide a stunning view over the entire city, as far as the Golden Gate bridge and Mount Davidson, which is the highest point in San Francisco. Another famous height is the Telegraph Hill, so named because it was the first location of the telegraph station in the American West. The hill is also the location of the Coit Tower, a monument to firemen. This part of town has been home to numerous artists and writers, including Mark Twain.

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On another hill, you will find the ‘most twisting street in the world’, the Lombard Street, with its eight very tight bends. It was built that way in the 1920s to enable people and vehicles to climb the steep hillside.

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The solution chosen to deal with the difficulty of climbing the streets was a horse-drawn transport system, which was later electrified. This was necessary because the animals caused countless accidents when they lost their footing on the hillsides. But the system enabled the building of new residential areas on the city’s highest points. Still today, the two cities keep the same mode of transport, which serves as a symbol for both. Lisboa has its yellow Carris trams, and San Francisco its Cable Cars. Designed in the 19th century, they still retain their original timber construction and run on rails.

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Another close link between the two countries is to be found in the fact that the first Portuguese vehicles were built in the United States. The horse-drawn trams were in fact known as Americanos. Today, among the many cable cars plying the streets of San Francisco, there is one that forges a link with the Portuguese. In 1982, Oporto City Council offered a yellow tram to the city, which is now operating and exists as a reminder of Portugal.

At one time, San Francisco stopped using its trams. The reason was the devastating earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906. Many of the cable car lines were destroyed, never to be rebuilt. Currently, there are about 39 cable cars working a 16 kilometer network. Curiously, Lisboa is also an earthquake-prone area. Yet another point in common with the American city, although this time a rather turbulent one.

Cities of Flowers

The natural environment seems to flourish in a crescendo each time you visit. San Francisco could well be dubbed the city of flowers. Its unusual climate, which almost defies the meteorological laws governing the rest of the world, means that a wide range of plants can be cultivated.

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The juxtaposition of flower marvels in San Francisco is eminently photogenic. Outstanding places to see them include the Flower Conservatory, the Japanese Garden and the botanical gardens of Golden Gate Park. There is also an annual flower show.

In Lisboa, who can fail to admire the beautiful balconies when they are in flower? Well-tended pots and window boxes and the perfume of basil during the city’s traditional fetes are its olfactory signature. To celebrate that fact there is a prize for the best window box. A visit to the Estufa Fria (cold greenhouse), or the Botanical Garden in Ajuda is another way of discovering Portuguese gardens.

During the day, bright flowers predominate. At night, another frenzy lights up the cities. Under the moonlight, San Francisco is one of the world’s most fascinating cultural stages, fully of a joyful buzz and diversity. In Lisboa, cultural offers are on the increase and life goes on until the sun comes up.

The affinities of the two cities are the stuff of fairy tales. To visit one is to be reminded of the other. Immortalized in Tony Bennet’s song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, the American city is one of boundless charm. And back in Lisboa, you are reminded of Alvaro de Campos, one of Fernando Pessoa pseudonyms:

“I see you again,

with your heart more distant,

your soul less mine.

I see you again,

Lisbon and Tagus and everything.”

(From Lisbon Revisited, Alvaro de Campos, 1926)

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It is not by chance that the inspiring city of San Francisco is regarded by all as the most European of American cities.

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Teresa Ramoa

(This article was previously published in the magazine “Lisboa Unforgettable”, number 26, Spring 2001, pages 34-36)

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